Q: I'm debating whether to invest in some high-quality equipment to help pick up the leaves in our yard this fall, or hire a pro to tackle the job. How much would I need to spend on tools if I go the DIY route?
A: The problem with hiring a landscaper to do your fall leaf cleanup isn’t necessarily the $250 to $500-plus price tag, it’s that this is not a once-a-season job. In many regions of the country, autumn lasts weeks and weeks, so it takes a handful of cleanups to keep your property neat and tidy. (This is especially true if you have a neighbor who waits until absolutely every branch is bare before he’ll lift a rake, ensuring that his leaves continue to blow onto your lawn until the first frost glues them to the ground.)
The good news is that do-it-yourself leaf removal doesn’t have to be a blister-raising, hamstring-stressing effort. With the right tools, the leaves can be gone before the first afternoon football game kicks off. Here's what you need to make that happen.
Lawnmower: Throughout the spring and summer, setting the mower to maximum height is one of the best things you can do for your lawn’s health. But come fall, drop it down as low as it’ll go without scalping the turf. Short grass gives leaves less to get caught on as they drift around the neighborhood. It also means the mower will vaporize any leaves that have already fallen (assuming a light coating). Use a mulching mower—meaning the kind without a bag that pulverizes clippings and drops them back into the turf to feed it—such as the Toro 20370 ($309 at Home Depot).
Leaf Blower: Raking is hard work, but so is using a wimpy hand-held leaf blower. The typical plug-in version isn’t powerful enough to extinguish a birthday candle, never mind move a pile of damp leaves—or a single well-nestled acorn. If you’re of strong enough body to rake, you’re probably of strong enough body to handle a gas-powered backpack blower, such as Husqvarna’s top-of-the-line 356BT ($439 at amazon.com). These machines have flexible hoses and variable speed triggers, so you have plenty of power to remove those leaves stuck in your azaleas and also a gentle enough touch for cleaning up around a screen porch without sending dirt inside. (Just please wear ear protection, because even this quieter-than-most version is quite loud.)
Tarp: Don't try to transport a big pile of leaves all the way to the woods for disposal- or the curb if your municipality picks them up with a vacuum truck— using a blower, not even a backpack one. Instead, rake or blow them onto a tarp and drag them to their destination or, better yet, blow them onto the EZ Leaf Hauler, $40 from plowhearth.com, which has three sidewalls to help corral and relocate large piles.
Bagger: If you need to pack your leaves into brown paper bags for municipal curb pickup, check out the Leaf Chute ($9 at Lowe's or Home Depot). It’s a low-tech, three-sided plastic tube that props open the empty bag and has a wide mouth for easy loading. Once the bag is full enough to stand on its own, remove the chute and pack in as many more leaves as you can stamp down.
Your Kids: Leaf pickup is an ideal chore for the young people who are eating you out of house and home. Start them with rakes—and quality, well-fitted work gloves—and let them learn the old fashioned way. Then, once they’re capable rakers, understand the basics of the job, and are ready for power tools, let them grab a hold of that sweet new blower.
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